Saturday, March 31, 2007
Amanda Gardner of Healthday (Canada) reports:
Women can take the two components of the so-called "abortion pill" simultaneously, rather than 24 hours apart, as is typically done, a new study found.
And a second study found the drug is safe for late first-trimester abortions.
Under the FDA-approved protocol for mifepristone (also known as "RU-486" or the "abortion pill"), the patient first takes mifepristone, and then must return twice to the provider, first for administration of a second medication, misoprostol, and again for a follow-up visit. The new study suggests that the second visit for misoprostol could be combined with the first without any loss of effectiveness. Otherwise, to avoid the need for a second visit to receive misoprostol, some women self-administer this second medication at home, a protocol that has also proven effective. See the National Abortion Federation's Protocol for Mifepristone/Misoprostol in Early Abortion.
Friday, March 30, 2007
While anti-choice advocates hurl shrill accusations from the sidelines, pro-choice groups have been hard at work trying to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy. Fewer unintended pregnancies translates to fewer abortions. One aspect of the pro-choice campaign has been to increase knowledge of and access to emergency contraception (EC). This spring, Planned Parenthoods nationwide have been holding "Free EC Days," on which they hand out EC at no charge for women to keep in the medicine cabinet. For example, the Indiana Journal & Courier reported yesterday:
Planned Parenthood of Indiana has announced plans to offer free emergency contraception on Tuesday at nine of its health centers, including the Lafayette facility.
This will be the first time the group is making emergency contraception widely available for free, said Steve Carr, Planned Parenthood communication manager. And the goal is to ensure more women have it on hand if a need arises. The facilities chosen for distribution are all in college towns.
When I started working at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project in 1997, public awareness of EC was low. Some women knew of it only as the "morning after pill," a poor term since EC actually is effective for up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. The educational efforts of pro-choice groups have paid off. Surveys administered to girls aged 13-21 years at one medical center show how dramatically awareness of EC increased from 1996-2002:
Compared with survey results for 1996, the 2002 findings represented significant increases in the number of respondents who had heard of EC (74% vs. 51%) and used it (13% vs. 3%). Among girls who knew of EC, in 2002 96% knew how to obtain it vs. 81% in 1996. And 53% of the teens in 2002 knew the correct time limit for using EC vs. 21% in 1996.
In Mexico's Congress, the Party of the Democratic Revolution has introduced a bill to decriminalize abortion, setting off a fierce debate.
Abortion has long been an issue in this country of 107 million, where most Mexicans at least nominally consider themselves Roman Catholic, but for the first time the political landscape favors advocates of abortion rights.
Meanwhile, demonstrators in Poland marched on Wednesday in favor of a total ban on abortion:
Two separate marches merged into a demonstration of 4,000 people in front of parliament, where lawmakers were debating amending the constitution to tighten Poland's anti-abortion law, already among the most restrictive in the EU.
Read the AP story. But earlier this month, others demonstrated in favor of liberalizing Poland's abortion law:
More than 1,200 people marched in Warsaw on Sunday to urge changes to Poland's restrictive abortion laws and counter a bill to have a "right to life from the moment of conception" added to the country's constitution.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Amber Abreu, the 18-year-old Dominican immigrant charged two months ago with illegally inducing an abortion by taking the anti-ulcer drug Cytotec, will not face homicide charges. Abreu delivered a one-pound fetus, which died 4 days later.
Apparently, the decision not to prosecute was based not on compassion for the teenager, as one might hope -- see this post -- but turned instead on the issue of proving viability. The Boston Globe reports:
The state medical examiner determined that Abreu's fetus had been 25 weeks old at death, according to the Essex district attorney's office. Prosecutors, however, decided that they would probably not be able to convince a jury that Ashley was a viable human being who had been killed.
"The baby was 25 weeks, and you can't prove viability beyond a reasonable doubt at 25 weeks," said Steve O'Connell , a spokesman for the office.
See also this post.
In Monday's Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, NPR Program Features Discussion on Antiabortion Groups Targeting Blacks in Urban Communities:
NPR's "News & Notes" on Friday included a discussion with Lillie Epps, director of Care Net's Urban Initiative, and Loretta Ross, founder of the group Sistersong: Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, about how some antiabortion groups are increasing outreach toward blacks in urban communities (Corley, "News & Notes," NPR, 3/23).
The Kaiser Report includes a link to the segment.
From the Feminist Daily Newswire:
The National Organization for Women's Political Action Committee (NOW PAC) announced their endorsement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) for US president yesterday. At a gathering at the historic home of suffragist Alice Paul and the National Women's Party, NOW PAC Chair Kim Gandy launched their campaign to Make History With Hillary, emphasizing the need for a leader that will "restore faith in our government, repair its credibility at home and abroad, and end the destructive policies that have eroded our civil liberties and increased injustice and inequality in our society… Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is just such a leader."
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The Federalist Society has posted a written debate on Abortion and the Courts, with Wendy Long taking the anti-choice side and Jennifer Brown arguing the pro-choice position. Brown did an excellent job in the face of depressingly strident and ill-informed assertions on Long's part.
Here's the comment I submitted:
Why am I having a tired sense of deja vu reading this debate?
Maybe it's because of the time-worn arguments Long invokes about why privacy is not protected by the Constitution, arguments that have not grown more convincing with age. Take her point that one must "rewrite the Constitution" to find a right of privacy that encompasses fundamental personal decisions like whether to bear a child. Lots of things that Long probably thinks should be protected aren't literally mentioned in the Constitution -- like the Executive Privilege that President Bush lately keeps threatening to invoke. And, if we want to be literal, the Ninth Amendment literally does contemplate rights not listed in the Constitution.
Interesting article in today's Washington Post, by Juliet Eilperin:
Federal and state lawmakers have launched a new drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, reviving a feminist goal that faltered a quarter-century ago when the measure did not gain the approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures.
The amendment, which came three states short of enactment in 1982, has been introduced in five state legislatures since January. Yesterday, House and Senate Democrats reintroduced the measure under a new name -- the Women's Equality Amendment -- and vowed to bring it to a vote in both chambers by the end of the session.
Among the many legal questions the article addresses are whether the 35 state votes to ratify the original ERA are still valid, and whether the amendment would require government funding for abortions. The Supreme Court has ruled that such funding is not required for low-income women, even for medically necessary abortions. (More on that at this post.) It's true that the New Mexico Supreme Court interpreted the state's ERA to require state funding of medically necessary abortions for low-income women. Who knows how the U.S. Supreme Court would interpret the proposed federal amendment -- the language of the amendment is very general and the Court's past rulings on sex discrimination and pregnancy are not encouraging. But a different outcome for low-income women at the Supreme Court level would be an enormously important and welcome change. Not sure what happens when women are denied abortions for medical needs short of life-endangering? Read this post about the Polish single mother who is going blind because the government denied her an abortion.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The Times-Leader of Northern Pennsylvania reports:
The Luzerne County prison has been stuck with a nearly $2,000 bill for an abortion that was requested by an incarcerated inmate, prison officials confirmed Monday.
The woman was more than 20 weeks pregnant and had to be transported to a facility in Philadelphia that specializes in late-term abortions, Warden Gene Fischi said. Fischi declined to identify the woman, citing health-care privacy laws.
Fischi and Deputy Warden Sam Hyder said they objected to having the facility pay for the procedure, but they were legally obligated to honor the woman’s request.
Gee, what else was she supposed to do? See also this post about reproductive rights in prison.
The website of WCBS Newsradio 880 includes an AP story on Governor Spitzer's speech at the Family Planning Advocates of New York State's annual conference on March 26. Spitzer apparently asserted that "we are on the cusp of losing Roe v. Wade," while promising to fight to keep abortion legal in New York. Are we really about to lose Roe? I tend to agree with Jessie Hill that the answer is most likely no.
Spitzer also said that New York's laws "do not go far enough" in protecting the right to abortion "and so we will make it our vision this term, this year to expand New York's law to give us all the protections that are necessary." Actually, NARAL gives New York an A- in its indispensable Who Decides publication, which profiles the abortion laws of all 50 states. According to the AP article, "Spitzer provided few details about how New York's abortion laws need to be updated."
There is, however, still much to be done to improve access to reproductive health services and information in New York, especially for low income women and teens, so Spitzer's commitment to protecting reproductive freedom is certainly welcome. See the State Legislative Agenda of Planned Parenthood of NYC.
District Attorney Arrests Female Patients, Doctors, and Nurses in the Dominican Republic to "Spark a Public Debate" on Family Planning
Sorry, but I really just don't know where to start with this one, so I'll let the story speak for itself. From the Kansas City Star, Raids fuel abortion debate in Dominican Republic:
Two months pregnant and bleeding, Yanira Then says she went to a clinic in her low-income Santo Domingo neighborhood, where her doctor said she had suffered a miscarriage.
Then was still in her hospital gown that February morning when her doctor's office was stormed by police, prosecutors and television news cameras. Accused of having had an abortion, Then, a 27-year-old law student, was arrested along with two other patients, the nurses and her physician.
She faces 3 to 10 years in prison. The doctor faces 50.
Judge Richard Conway Casey, the country's first blind federal trial judge, died on March 22.
Judge Casey was one of three federal trial judges to rule that the federal abortion ban, the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act," is unconstitutional. He held so despite obvious personal opposition to abortion. In his opinion, he wrote, "The Court finds that the testimony at trial and before Congress establishes that D&X [the procedure that the ban purports to target] is a gruesome, brutal, barbaric, and uncivilized medical procedure." The New York Times reports that, during the trial, "Judge Casey asked a doctor if doctors ever hear a baby cry during an abortion. He asked the same doctor if a mother can detect in advance that a baby will be born blind." Judge Casey's decision was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which has issued a stay pending the Supreme Court's ruling on the other two challenges to the ban.
Read the AP obituary in the New York Times. Thanks to Lara Romansic for the tip.
Check out the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project's Take Issue, Take Charge blog for some great posts on comprehensive sexuality education, including a link to this article in U.S. News & World Report, describing sexuality education in Sweden:
Since 1956, sex education has been compulsory in Swedish schools, from the earliest grades through high school. Sex is a natural human act, the educators reason, and most people become active before they're 20. Since there is no changing that, the Swedes figure, young people should at least understand sexuality and reproduction, as well as the risks of unprotected sex.... The curriculum starts out clinically at around age 6, when children learn about anatomy, eggs, and sperm. From age 12 on, the topics lean more toward disease and contraception. The classes have a moral dimension, as well: Sex within loving relationships is stressed, as is gender equality.
The message seems to work: The rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease in Sweden are among the world's lowest. Sweden's teenage birthrate is 7 per 1,000 births, compared with 49 in the United States. Among 15-to-19-year-olds, reported cases of gonorrhea in the United States are nearly 600 times as great on a per capita basis.
Is it possible that the United States will ever become this reasonable about sexuality education? There is now hope for a federal sexuality education program that, for the first time ever, would do more than teach abstinence. See Federal REAL Act Would Establish First Federal Sex Ed Program.
Nancy Gibbs writes in Time Magazine:
Planned Parenthood made its name by helping people plan parenthood, promoting access to contraception and providing general reproductive health care. Fewer than one in ten clients comes for abortions, and less than 30% of 860 Planned Parenthood clinics in the U.S. actually provide abortions. In fact Planned Parenthood argues that it prevents nearly 300,000 abortions a year by helping prevent unintended pregnancies. But the fireworks of the culture wars have meant that the organization has become the face of abortion in America, and that brings a literal as well as political cost.
For fifteen years, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Missouri clinics in Joplin and Springfield have offered free breast and cervical cancer screenings as part of the state's "Show Me Healthy Women" program. Now Governor Matt Blunt has announced that he will cut off all program funding to Planned Parenthood and redirect it to other health clinics. "Patients should not have to go to an abortion clinic to access life-saving tests," Blunt declared. Refusing to fund cancer screening at the clinics, he said, "ensures women may access important preventative care without contributing to abortion providers' goal of facilitating the destruction of innocent life."
Read the full article.
Monday, March 26, 2007
With a view to combating the high maternal mortality rate and empowering the women, the government Friday launched a programme that is expected to tackle some common misconceptions and taboos related to childbirth.
Along with state's Health Minister Digamber Singh, the emergency contraception programme was jointly launched by board members of Population Services International, -, a non-governmental organisation, Hollywood actor Ashley Judd and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar.
PSl has piloted this social marketing initiative to encourage and promote the concept of emergency contraception amongst local people.
I did have to laugh at the quote attributed to Ashley Judd (one can only hope that these aren't actually her words):
Judd, who is also a member of the PSI board, said: 'Woman is the nucleus of the family and we need to preserve good healthy conditions for the fairer sex to promote her family.'
But in all seriousness, it's great to see emergency contraception being promoted both in the United States and abroad. This safe, effective method of pregnancy prevention has been the "best kept secret" in contraception for far too long. See also: Colorado To Require Hospitals to Tell Rape Survivors About Emergency Contraception; NYC Health Department To Promote Emergency Contraception; Emergency Contraception for Teens: Free, or Off-Limits? (describing Chile's program offering free EC at public hospitals).
A story in Sunday's New York Times, Man Convicted in Incest Case Plans Appeal to Supreme Court, addresses the question of what conduct should be encompassed by criminal prohibitions on incest:
Paul D. Lowe, 44, a former sheriff’s deputy, pleaded no contest to a sexual battery charge in 2004 for having intercourse with his stepdaughter, who was 22.... The case is complicated by the county prosecutor’s contention that the sex between Mr. Lowe and his stepdaughter was not consensual....
The conviction was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court in a 6-to-1 decision on Feb. 28. It ruled that Mr. Lowe had no constitutional right to have sex with his stepdaughter and that the Ohio law unambiguously barred sex regardless of the stepchild’s age. “The state has a legitimate interest in prohibiting incestuous relations and in protecting the family unit and family relationships,” the court ruled, adding, “The law makes no exception for consent of the stepchild or the stepchild’s age.”
J. Dean Carro, Mr. Lowe’s lawyer and a University of Akron law professor, said he was troubled by the breadth of the state law, which criminalizes sexual contact between stepparents and stepchildren of any age. He argues that consensual sex that does not involve minors or adults who may be coerced or injured by the act should be legal in light of the landmark 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision in which the Supreme Court overturned a Texas sodomy law that barred consenting adults from engaging in homosexual contact.
Mr. Carro hopes the case could refine the Texas ruling by answering whether the court recognizes a fundamental right for adults to have private, consensual sexual relations without government control. Legal scholars on both sides of the issue agree that the 2003 ruling does not definitively answer the question.
See also: Consensual Incest and Abortion.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
A Texas legislator has proposed that pregnant women considering abortion be offered $500 not to end their pregnancies. Republican State Sen. Dan Patrick, who also is a conservative radio talk show host, said Friday the money might persuade the women to go ahead and have babies, then give them up for adoption....
"If this incentive would give pause and change the mind of 5 percent of those women, that's 3,000 lives. That's almost as many people as we've lost in Iraq," Patrick said.
Patrick has filed legislation to make the payment state law, but the legislature has not voted on it. His proposal calls for giving any woman going to an abortion clinic the $500 option, to be paid no more than 30 days after the baby is born and given up for adoption.
Critics say the proposal would violate Texas and federal laws against buying babies, which Patrick rejected as "the typical ridiculous criticism."
Read the bill. One has to hope that this proposal will falter beneath the mountain of "ridiculous criticism" that it merits. But I would like to focus on just one aspect: Like so many proposals that aim to stop women from choosing abortions, this one targets those who have the least "choice" to begin with -- women trapped in a cycle of poverty. The "choice" offered here is not even to have the baby and keep it, but to place the baby for adoption. It's troubling enough that the economic policies of this country effectively leave many low-income, pregnant women with no choice but to terminate pregnancies they might otherwise carry to term if they could only afford it. But attempts to coerce them to have and then give up their babies for a cash reward only add insult to injury.
Read more about punitive policies toward low-income, pregnant women at the website of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
In Sunday's New York Times Book Review, Alex Kuczynski reviews Hanne Blank's book, “Virgin: The Untouched History":
A well-researched history of virginity, it veers from the medical (who knew there are five different types of hymens?) to the pop-cultural (discussions of “Beverly Hills 90210,” the movie “Little Darlings” and so on) to the scholarly (dissections of Christian theology, 19th-century British social policy and the like). One minute you’re plodding through an account of the Counter-Reformation, and the next reading about how Buffy the Vampire Slayer lost her virginity to a vampire living under a Gypsy curse.
I must admit that some of the review's descriptions of the historical treatment of virgins were sufficiently stomach-turning to make me wonder whether I could stomach reading the book itself. Nevertheless, the book addresses an important topic, especially given that the world has hardly outgrown its obsession with virginity and persists in horrific treatment of virgins. Kuczynski makes this point with respect to "virgin cures":
Virginity has also been considered a life-saving antidote. Blank gives the history of the so-called “virgin cure,” the belief that men could be cured of sexually transmitted diseases by having sex with a virgin. She links this idea to Christian legends of virgin martyrs who battle demons while protected by their own purity. In 18th-century London, one in every five capital rape cases involved children under the age of 10, and the rapists commonly cited the virgin-cure myth in their defense. It would be nice to think this notion has long since been abandoned to the gruesome past, but that is cruelly not so: it persists in southern Africa and is a major contributor to the escalating AIDS crisis.
For more on modern-day virginity obsessions, see Designer Vaginas.
In Friday's NY Times, Nina Bernstein writes in In Secret, Polygamy Follows Africans to N.Y.:
She worked at the Red Lobster in Times Square and lived with her husband near Yankee Stadium. Yet one night, returning home from her job, Odine D. discovered that African custom, not American law, held sway over her marriage.
A strange woman was sitting in the living room, and Ms. D.’s husband, a security guard born in Ghana, introduced her as his other wife.
Devastated, Ms. D., a Guinean immigrant who insisted that her last name be withheld, said she protested: “I can’t live with the woman in my house — we have only two bedrooms.” Her husband cited Islamic precepts allowing a man to have up to four wives, and told her to get used to it. And she tried to obey.
Polygamy in America, outlawed in every state but rarely prosecuted, has long been associated with Mormon splinter groups out West, not immigrants in New York. But a fatal fire in a row house in the Bronx on March 7 revealed its presence here, in a world very different from the suburban Utah setting of “Big Love,” the HBO series about polygamists next door.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Laurie Goodstein writes in yesterday's New York Times:
In a rare step, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have declared as false teaching two pamphlets by a Catholic theologian who argues that abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage are morally permissible under Catholic doctrine.
The theologian, Daniel C. Maguire, teaches religious ethics at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee. He is a 75-year-old former priest and a prolific writer, educated at the prestigious Gregorian University in Rome, who has been challenging Catholic teaching on sexuality for years.
Last summer, Mr. Maguire mailed two of his pamphlets, The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion and A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage to 270 Catholic bishops. In them, he argued that the Catholic position on these issues was pluralistic, and that Catholic theologians through history had taken a variety of acceptable stances on these issues.
When will the Catholic Church finally accept the fact that its teachings on abortion and contraception are anachronistic and out of step with the beliefs of most Catholics? As Catholics for a Free Choice points out: "Catholics believe in legal abortion.They also believe in contraception, sexuality education, government support for family planning programs in developing countries and the separation of church and state." Read CFFC's brochures on Catholics and abortion and Catholics and contraception.
To read about other religious perspectives on abortion and contraception, see Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions, edited by Daniel C. Maguire.